He's plagued with dreams of death.
At first, he tells himself this is normal. Anyone who is not concerned with death, the only certainty in an unpredictable existence, is a fool. The first time it happens is the night after his father's funeral; he wakes in a cold sweat after driving a car off a bridge, and an odd feeling of dislocation stalks him like a spectre long into the next day.
The next night, the dream returns, more vivid than before. For hours after he comes to in the safety of his own bed, it feels as though his stomach has risen into his chest, and walking makes him dizzy.
The dream persists for almost a week, until one morning he is roused by his own screams, convinced that his eyes and ears and lungs are flooded with freezing water, until the warmth and weight of the duvet atop his body is real enough for him to believe otherwise. He holds his head under in the bathroom sink and wonders what it's like to truly drown.
The night afterwards is different. He's in a falling elevator, plummeting towards the inevitable, and wakes with the sound of breaking bones lingering in his ears. It's easy to tell himself how stupid he's being. Elevators are protected from freefall by rigorous safety mechanisms. The following night he's treated to the sickeningly real treat of snapped femurs being forced upwards into his torso by his own body weight, almost as though the dream is warning him not to question it. He's too disturbed by the idea of fractured limbs to go for his customary morning run the next day.
A week of blood-filled lungs and displaced vital organs later, the dreams change again. He almost welcomes the bite of a bullet tearing through his aorta; it has a refreshing lack of intimacy after the ongoing experience of having his internal physiology rearranged by gravity, and it's mercifully quick. Later in the day he unwraps the old service pistol, hidden in an oil-stained cloth in a box of his father's personal effects, and presses it against his chest, finger twitching on the trigger. He wonders whether it's as reassuringly painless in reality as it is in his dreams.
Disconcertingly, his subconscious seems to cotton on to this lack of response, which means his second venture into this dreamscape is accompanied by what he can only describe as an electric shock, hauling his dream self back into awareness to enjoy the sensation of an absent heartbeat and a hole in his chest which shouldn't be there. This time, upon waking, he spends frantic minutes searching with shaking hands for an entry wound, and the fact that he doesn't find ragged flesh and gaping viscera is little comfort at all.
He's left with an impression of a face which is vaguely familiar, grey-eyed and lightly-stubbled under a tuft of light-brown hair, and icy cold palms splayed out across his chest.
The face is there again the following night, and it's the touch of his hands which brings the shock. It's a man, a young man with life-saving hands, and his touch gives him knowledge of his name.
In the next dream, he's surprised to find himself at the window of his office on the thirteenth floor. The window is open and the light breeze whips his hair across his forehead. He's barefoot, and his toes grip the sill, fingers loosely curled around the edge. The street doesn't seem all that far away from up here. Just a little jump.
The office door opens, and he looks over his shoulder. It's Uncle Peter. If he is surprised to find his godson on the windowledge, he doesn't betray it. The older man shuts the door quietly, one hand slightly extended towards him, but he stays where he is.
"Robert. How's the view?"
He looks out at the city. The sky is overcast, threatening rain, the streets crawling with traffic like clogged arteries. It looks diseased, cancerous, bloated.
"Grey," he says dispassionately. He has an overwhelming urge to fly.
Uncle Peter nods slowly. "Robert, I know you haven't been sleeping well. Do you want to come down from there? You'll catch a cold."
He grips the ledge a little tighter. "I think I'm fine here." The sidewalk seems so inviting.
"We can talk, if you like."
"I would rather fall." He leans forward, and he hears Uncle Peter's shout, but he still lets go. And in the seconds before the world collapses in a glorious implosion of black and red, he realises what is different about this dream: Uncle Peter spoke to him, and it is not a dream at all.
He isn't surprised that he doesn't really care. Death in his dreams is seductive, and it will be pleasant not to wake up this time.
When he finds himself lying on the street, dying, he finally begins to regret what he's done.
There's no light to walk towards. There's no recollection of his relatively brief life flashing before his eyes. There is no intoxicating lure to just let go and give in to the iron fist clenching around his heart. There is only pain, so incomprehensible in its intensity that he feels almost detached from his own body, and the all-consuming desire to cling to his fading consciousness with everything he has left. He is seized by a sudden, panic-stricken desperation, crippled by the realisation that his number is up and that there is nothing glamorous or beautiful or cathartic in this, the ultimate act of surrender.
There are icy cold palms splayed out across his chest, grey eyes and light stubble under light-brown hair, and a face that is more than vaguely familiar.
"Eames," he murmurs, through bloody teeth. He laughs, feeling the bones in his skull grate together.
"Fischer," says Eames. There are tears in his slate-coloured gaze and his full lips are twisted with guilt. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
It is funny, he thinks, that Eames is Life in his dreams, and Death upon waking.
"Take me with you," he whispers. His fingers twitch purposefully, though he can't move his arms, and Eames finds his hand and holds it tightly in his own larger one. The other strokes through his hair, moving it away from his face, and though the touch hurts unbearably it's so very welcome. Eames seems to knows what he means.
"Not long now." Eames kisses his forehead. There are sirens in the distance but they fade in and out of hearing like a detuned radio. Eames brought him back from death and now he can return him to it. "I'm so sorry, love."
He doesn't feel it when Eames gently turns his head to the side and his last, tenuous grasp on reality is snapped. He's just glad to let go.